Cover of FAQ: West Nile Virus

"West Nile virus is the most significant exotic mosquito-borne disease that has come to the contiguous United States in the last century," according to Dr. Lyle Peterson, Director of the Division of Vector-borne Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Outbreaks have proven extremely difficult to predict and control and have been associated with considerable morbidity. The large outbreak in 2012, which caught many by surprise, indicates that West Nile virus will remain a formidable public health challenge for years to come."

Indeed, 2012 marked the largest outbreak of West Nile virus in the United States since 2003, and already in 2013, mosquitos infected with this potentially deadly virus have been detected in 21 states with human cases of West Nile infection reported in Calif., Miss., S.D., Tenn. and Texas. Where does the virus come from? How is it spread? Can we predict when and where outbreaks will occur? What factors determine how sick a person will become if they are infected with West Nile virus?

"We desperately need to better understand the ecology, epidemiology and pathogenesis of this virus in order to develop effective preventive measures and antiviral therapy," says Dr. Ken Tyler, University of Colorado in Denver.

To help answer the many questions people have about this multi-faceted virus, the American Academy of Microbiology has issued a new report titled "FAQ: West Nile Virus." The Academy convened 22 of the world's leading experts on West Nile virus in March, 2013 to consider and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about West Nile virus. The resultant report provides non-technical, science-based answers to questions that people may have about the virus.

Some of the questions the report considers include the following:

  • How did West Nile virus spread across the country so quickly?
  • Why do some people get West Nile fever or neuroinvasive disease?
  • Can the severity of West Nile neuroinvasive disease change from year to year?
  • Can West Nile virus outbreaks be prevented?

"FAQ: West Nile Virus" is the latest offering in a series of reports designed to provide a rapid response to emerging issues or to highlight the role of microbes in daily life. Previous FAQ reports have covered topics like the role of microorganisms in cleaning up oil spills and the central role of yeast in the production of beer.


Shannon Greene, Ann Reid. 2013. FAQ: west nile virus.

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